BEIJING, Dec 18 – China, a key ally of Sudan, was not opposed to the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as long as its oil interests were protected, according to a US diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks.
The document dated December 3, 2008 quotes the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court discussing the issue with a US official.
"China, as long as it continues to have oil concessions in Sudan, does not care what happens to Bashir, and would not oppose his arrest if its revenues were not interrupted," ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo was quoted as saying.
"Ocampo suggested the United States give China assurances about its oil concessions," according to the cable, released by the whistleblower website and published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The Hague-based ICC indicted Bashir in March 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in July 2010 on charges of genocide, all linked to alleged atrocities in Darfur in western Sudan.
The region has been in the throes of a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000 people.
The December 2008 cable suggested a change of heart in Beijing, as another memo from three months before said Chinese officials feared that Bashir’s arrest and prosecution would "only serve to destabilise Sudan".
Those concerns were shared by US officials, who said Bashir’s indictment could "set off a chain reaction of violence and instability".
China is a key ally of Bashir’s isolated regime as well as a military supplier and the biggest buyer of the country’s oil.
Beijing has been criticised by the West for its support of hardline leaders such as Bashir and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, but many African leaders praise Beijing for not preaching to them over human rights.
Another cable released by WikiLeaks quoted a senior US State Department official as saying China is a "pernicious economic competitor with no morals" whose booming investments in Africa are propping up unsavoury regimes.
China pursues a "contrarian" approach by dealing with the "Mugabes and Bashirs of the world", the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson, was quoted as saying earlier this year.
Beijing has said it hopes the ongoing revelations from the cables leaked by WikiLeaks will not affect its ties with the United States, but has thus far refused to comment on the specifics contained in the documents.